The Israeli press gathering at the Kotel moments before US Vice President Pence arrives..
(photo credit: HERB KEINON)
The Western Wall Heritage Foundation and administrator of the Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz arranged for women journalists and photographers to cover the visit of US Vice President Mike Pence at the Western Wall from behind the gender-separation barrier, generating consternation from the female journalists, including US reporters, as well as politicians and activist groups.
Upon arriving at the site, female reporters and photographers were required to cover the event from inside the women’s section of the Western Wall prayer plaza and behind the gender-separation barrier between the men’s and women’s sections.
The female reporters also objected to the press platform in the women’s section being behind the press platform in the men’s section, meaning that their line of sight and view of the event was obstructed by the heads and shoulders of the male journalists and photographers.
Jordana Miller, covering the event for ABC News USA and i24, said she found the situation “disturbing,” and that she was unable to do her job properly because the female journalists had been allocated an unfavorable vantage point of the proceedings.
“Because the area we were given was behind three rows of men, we simply didn’t have the same access to the story, that is Pence coming to plaza, as men did,” Miller told The Jerusalem Post.
“We couldn’t see well at all. In the end I stepped up on a chair and tried to get my pictures through the shoulders of the male reporters. My live shots were done with the women’s section in the background, whereas the men could do theirs with the men’s section in the background, which is where Pence actually visited.”
Miller also pointed out that there were no prayer services at the time the Western Wall, since the site had been closed to worshipers for the event, so there was no reason to separate men and women.
“I’m modern Orthodox, but there were no prayers, no prayer service. From a religious standpoint, it doesn’t make sense to me why we were separated. I had a hard time doing my job because of this.”
Women of the Wall chairperson Anat Hoffman said that the incident showed that the center of gravity of discrimination against women in Israel was the Western Wall.
“Control over the Western Wall was handed to a minority group in the Jewish world, one that becomes more and more extreme with every passing day,” said Hoffman.
“Today, senior women journalists from Israel and abroad were discriminated against. Today, they experienced first-hand what happens to a woman who challenges the ultra-Orthodox monopoly of the Western Wall. Now they, too, know, that a woman who strives for gender equality in Israel has to bravely face the heart of discrimination at the center of gravity.”
The Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which administers the site, responded that in order to facilitate coverage by the massive amount of media covering the vice president’s visit, two identical stages were built on either side of the divider at the Wall. The foundation said the situation was exactly the same when US President Donald Trump visited the Wall in May.
“We reject any attempt to distract attention from the important and emotional visit of the vice president and his wife to the Western Wall.”
Kulanu MK Rachel Azaria accused Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz of creating an unnecessary international incident and harming the diplomatic achievements of Pence’s visit. Azaria said she had a bill that would define the role of the Western Wall rabbi and prevent him from “treating the site like it is his own personal property.”